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Vol 4.38   
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DAV Officers Michael Mills (l) and Nicholas Bernardi (r) welcome a veteran seeking information to the Mobil Service Office.   Photo by Karen Mattern
The DAV at O'Toole's Fall Open House

WURTSBORO – Every spring and fall, O'Toole's Harley-Davidson of Wurtsboro hosts an open house which attracts biking enthusiasts from all over the region. Along with the festive atmosphere, accompanied by free food, loud music, and a general camaraderie among those in attendance, the open house also serves a more serious purpose.

O'Toole's sponsors the Wurtsboro Hog Chapter which boasts about 100 members. Last Saturday, September 18, at the Fall Open House, this group presented a check for $21,691.41 to St. Jude's Children's Hospital. This money was raised at previous events, including a "poker run" and a bike raffle, organized by Ken Kavanagh, activities officer for the Wurtsboro Hog Chapter.

One of O'Toole's owners, Dan Tandy said that for the past 25 years, they have also organized toy drives for the Woodbourne Head Start program. Tandy further noted that motorcycle clubs all over the US raise substantial amounts of money for various other charities.

Harley's Heroes At O'Toole's
The Wurtsboro store is also one of the many Harley-Davidson dealerships nationwide supporting the Harley's Heroes program. In 2006, and again in 2010, the H-D foundation made $1 million grants to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). With this and other funding, the DAV was able to institute the Mobile Service Office (MSO) program, which brings benefits, education and counseling to veterans in communities all across the United States. The MSO's are staffed by highly trained professional DAV counselors, who must be disabled veterans themselves. These former servicemen go through a rigorous training to become experts in developing and prosecuting veterans' claims.

Participating in the Open House festivities at O'Toole's was one of the Mobile Services Offices, staffed by Michael Mills and Nicholas Bernardi. The unit is an office on wheels, serving all of New York and New Jersey, and providing veterans with all the forms, copy machines, information and assistance that they need to apply for the benefits they have earned.

National service officers like Mills and Bernardi are de facto attorneys, well versed in all laws applying to vets and able to provide advocacy for those entitled to benefits. Service officers are aware of the real and evolving needs of vets, since they deal directly with them, and have also walked in their shoes. Each year at the mid-winter conference, these officers go before the board to request new benefits to meet the actual needs they have encountered in their work.

"Not all disabilities are on the outside," said Mills. "For instance, too many veterans are dealing with post-traumatic stress." This is a condition that is under-diagnosed and underestimated in its effects. The serious difficulties that it can cause, however, have all too often led to the loss of jobs and homes for those suffering from it. Aware of this growing problem, Mills said that eliminating homelessness is currently a top priority for the DAV.

Bernardi served in the recent conflict in Iraq from 2002 to 2006. Mills is a veteran of the first Gulf War. He served 10 years in the army before being medically discharged in 1997. Half a world away from the foreign wars in which they served, both Mills and Bernardi radiate the same quiet determination and clear sense of purpose learned in the military, to rescue their wounded comrades. This time the battlefield and the skills required are different, but the mission to stand by friends in need remains the same.

When the chips are down, Mills and Bernardi are the kind of people you would want to have on your side. Thanks to Harley-Davidson for recognizing and supporting all of these American heroes.

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